PLANS to expand the reintroduction of lynx into a site in the Scottish Highlands were announced this week – in the wake of seven sheep being killed by an escaped lynx in the Welsh countryside.

The chief scientific advisor for the Lynx UK Trust, Dr Paul O’Donoghue, told The Scottish Farmer: “The current release plans will be expanding in the very near future, with a second release area planned in the Scottish Highlands.

“I’m not at liberty to disclose full details at this stage, but what I will say is that the plans for the second site already have a significant level of landowner support," said Mr O'Donoghue.

Lynx UK Trust is currently awaiting a response from Natural England to its application for a licence to release Eurasian Lynx into Northumberland's Keilder Forest, a move which the National Sheep Association has been vigorously contesting.

The NSA's case against reintroduction seemed to have been bolstered this week by the news from Wales, where a Eurasian lynx – exactly the same species proposed by Lynx UK Trust in its release application – escaped from Borth Zoo, Aberystwyth, and after several days in the wild, killed seven sheep in one attack.

NSA understands the cause of death was determined by post-mortem conducted by Welsh Government Officials, which was confirmed as a single bite to the neck and subsequent internal bleeding. Two of these sheep were partly eaten, but the NSA suggested that the remaining five had been killed purely out of instinct, just as a domestic cat might do with prey such as mice.

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “There cannot be a clearer warning of the damage lynx will do if they are released into the wild. It could not be more timely.

“Lynx UK Trust continue to assure us that lynx, on average, will take just 0.4 sheep annually – a fact which is simply unbelievable given the damage just one has inflicted after several days of roaming free. This incident also backs up what we are hearing from a number of sheep farmers in Scandinavia and other parts of Europe who tell us of high losses they’ve experienced from individual lynx that develop the behavioural characteristic of an opportunistic hunter.”

Mr Stocker continued: “The risk lynx pose to sheep, and the subsequent anxiety which would be suffered by sheep farmers if they were released is clear, but NSA’s concerns reach far wider than that. Through their normal work, sheep farmers are continually supporting wildlife and grassland ecology and this valuable activity could be undermined if a lynx release were to go ahead.”

However, Dr O’Donoghue accused Mr Stocker of ‘grandstanding’ over the attack, insisting that the lynx in question was completely different from those in the proposed reintroduction plans: “This was not a released lynx. A zoo lynx is completely different. It hasn’t been taught to hunt. The lynx we want to release are ‘professional lynx’, if you like.

“As well as that, the area in Wales in question is completely unsuitable for the lynx. It has no roe deer, and very little forestry cover, whereas Keilder is full of roe deer and has a massive block of forestry. Released lynx would have no interest in sheep there.

“These lynx may have been the same species, but it’s a completely irrelevant situation,” he claimed.